ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) – It probably was hard for Bo Schembechler to sit in a sophomore-level class called Systematic Thinking About Problems of the Day and not get involved in the discussion.

But day after day this semester, the feisty old coach who always had an opinion would take a seat and listen to discussions about the electoral college, the propriety of downloading music from the Internet and the impact of globalization on the U.S. economy.

“That he was part of the university really meant a lot to him,” said Paul Courant, the professor and former provost at the University of Michigan.

Even though he had not coached a game since 1990, Schembechler’s fiery presence was always felt across the Ann Arbor campus, where his death on Friday cast a gloomy shadow on the eve of one of the biggest football games in university history.

University President Mary Sue Coleman called the death a “tremendous shock” and an “irreplaceable loss” for the school.

“He was a giant of a coach and a giant of a man,” Michigan athletic director Bill Martin said at a news conference at the hospital where Schembechler died at 77.

To many, it seemed like Schembechler was always around, and that he always would be. He spoke to freshmen athletes, telling them about the responsibilities that came with wearing a Michigan uniform. He gave pep talks to the football team. He used his iconic status to help raise money, recently at the newly built Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

Schembechler took Public Policy 201 because of his interest in current issues, Courant said, and he attended consistently. He didn’t talk because he preferred to listen to the students.

“He told me often he was impressed a lot about how much they knew and how willing they were to mix it up, to make an argument,” Courant said.

He gave his opinions after class to Courant and the teaching assistants.

Schembechler attended his last class on Tuesday, and seemed fine even though it was just weeks after an earlier hospitalization for heart troubles, Courant said.

Sophomore water polo player Mary Chatigny, 19, of Palm Springs, Calif., had never heard of Schembechler until she came to Michigan. But she was inspired when he spoke at a banquet for all freshmen athletes, telling them what it means to wear a Michigan uniform.

“Always hold yourself in responsibility. Be proud to wear your Michigan gear. Be proud to be a student athlete,” she remembers him saying.

He also told them to go to class and always be on time, something her parents often told her.

“Coming from him, it just stuck so much more,” she said.

She called the timing of the death, the day before the game between No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan, “surreal,” but thought it would inspire the Wolverines.

Since 1969, Ann Arbor barber Jerry Erickson has cut Schembechler’s hair once a month – except when the former coach wintered in Florida. He was in the shop shortly before he became ill Oct. 20, and Erickson said he seemed just as feisty as ever.

After the cut was finished, Erickson followed Schembechler to the street, shook his hand and said, “Hey Bo, you’ve got my Ohio State tickets.” Erickson recalled Schembechler’s reply. He said the coach profanely told him the only thing he had for him was a good swift kick.

At the main entrance to Michigan Stadium, two bouquets of yellow roses were stuck in the wrought-iron fence, some maize and blue balloons were tied near them and a sign was posted that said: “We will miss you Bo. M Go Blue.”

To Courant, Schembechler’s passing means the end to one of the greatest pleasures of returning to teaching after years as an administrator. He loved talking football with the coach, who on Tuesday, in what would be their last conversation, asked Courant who would win the big game.

Courant said Michigan because its linemen are stronger on both sides of the ball.

“He said, “Yeah, I think so, too,”‘ Courant said.

AP-ES-11-17-06 1843EST

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